If it’s difficult for you, can you imagine it for Laura? She is not even a year old and is already experiencing a heat wave that has left 57% of the Brazilian population on high alert. The message issued by Inmet (National Institute of Meteorology), valid until Friday (17), is particularly sensitive for risk groups, and the 7-month-old daughter of psychologist Camila Anezi Oliveira, 36, and psychiatrist Pedro Ferreira, 37, is include it there.
Children suffer even more from high thermometers, especially those under 1 year old. This is due, according to Agnes Soares, director of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Surveillance, at the Ministry of Health, to a combination of physiological factors.
Babies’ thermal regulation mechanism has not yet matured. They do not have the same ability as older people to sweat to cool down their bodies — in winter, on the other hand, our bodies tremble precisely to warm up their muscles.
Children’s metabolism is also more accelerated at this stage, to keep up with growth, and the little ones’ hearts pump blood faster, reaching up to 140 beats per minute, twice that of a non-sedentary adult, which demands more from the body.
Therefore, heat stroke and dehydration are even more risky for children.
“I would add that children in this range are completely dependent on their caregiver,” says Soares. She doesn’t know how to speak and can’t communicate if she is too dressed up or thirsty, for example. Her guardians control the type of clothes she wears and the supply of liquids.
For babies who are exclusively breastfed, guidance up to 6 months of age, the ideal would be to increase feedings — to avoid lack of milk, the mother must pay attention to her fluid intake.
Pediatrician and public health specialist Daniel Becker points out that babies do not know how to lose heat, hence the need to be extra careful during this period. “It needs to be refreshed all the time.”
You can’t be too careful with baby strollers, which get very hot, and with the family car. The death of a 2-year-old boy forgotten in the school van is an unusually tragic outcome, but children spending more than an hour in vehicles without air conditioning is relatively common and can have complications for their health.
The more ventilated the environment, the better. And when this is not possible?
The apartment where Laura lives in São Paulo does not have an open area, so the best way is to take at least three showers a day, says her mother. Before, there was just one, which preceded bedtime.
It helps, but doesn’t solve it. “She becomes more irritable, that ‘nothing is good’ irritation. Her body gets hot, redder and sweatier. Sometimes she complains when we’re leaning too close to her, if she’s on our lap she throws herself back to get on the floor”, he says. Camila.
Laura has also been asking to breastfeed more and giving preference to colder foods, such as watermelon, mango and tomatoes straight from the fridge. A homemade hit is the “tetolé”, a popsicle made with frozen breast milk. Microwave use has plummeted. “Rice, beans, etc., we haven’t served hot.”
Sleep is no longer the same either. “She’s waking up more during the night, and earlier.”
To remedy this, her parents leave her in just a diaper for most of the day, and the only fan in the house is always where Laura is. Going to the little square, only after sunset. It is not uncommon to see children playing in parks at night. In beach cities, nighttime swimming in the sea has become a popular alternative.
Self-employed Emily Campos, 29, wishes she had a beach nearby. The resident of Bragança Paulista has been carrying her second child for five months, this time a girl, Helena.
She says that the pregnancy “has been a little more difficult since the beginning.” She had already overcome ovular detachment, which causes blood to accumulate between the egg and placenta and, in some cases, can cause miscarriage. “But I think the worst of all has been the heat. Lots of swelling, joint pain and malaise, which causes nausea and difficulty working at home and sleeping.”
The fan can’t handle it. A bucket of cold water comes in handy: take at least three showers a day, “when I don’t use a wet towel on my body to get through the day more calmly.”
Pregnant women are another more fragile group in the extreme heat that comes with climate change. “Pregnant women are young women, but due to all the hormonal and immunosuppression issues, they are at a more vulnerable stage”, explains gynecologist Carolina Scalissi, a doctor at the Santa Casa de Misericórdia Obstetric Center and specialized in high-risk pregnancies.
These women have an altered cardiovascular system, with increased blood volume. In practice, there is more blood circulating in the body to nourish the fetus it carries. So many hot days in a row, according to Scalissi, make them even more susceptible to low blood pressure and increased heart rate.
And look, pregnant women already naturally feel hotter than average, either due to the greater amount of blood in the body or due to the hormonal pump of pregnancy.
What to do
Some of the recommendations given by the Ministry of Health to protect yourself from high temperatures do not apply to babies and pregnant women, such as avoiding alcoholic beverages, something already discarded from the diet.
Others are better known, but it is always worth highlighting their importance. It is essential to increase the consumption of water and natural fruit juice (if the child is over 1 year old), even if they are not thirsty.
Avoiding exposure to the sun, especially between 10am and 4pm, and using age-appropriate sunscreen are also good tips. For little ones, a hat with brims helps keep the top of the head warm.
There are more suggestions that can make a difference, such as moistening environments with air humidifiers, wet towels or buckets of water, closing curtains and windows exposed to the sun, opening windows at night, putting less clothes on for babies to sleep in and, in the heat of the day, shower with slightly warm water, so as not to force sudden changes in temperature.
Water is still the best option, but variations such as coconut water and lemon juice are also useful. Agnes Soares, from the Health department, reminds us that sugary drinks, such as soft drinks and boxed juices, do not count. Sugar overloads the system and can hinder hydration.
Soares says that, although the ministry he works for does not measure deaths caused by excess heat, several studies show an increase in hospitalizations and mortality during severe heat.
Autonomous Emily just wants everything to be over soon. Due to her mother’s previous health problems, Helena, initially expected in March, could be born prematurely. In the height of summer.
“May the weather cooperate, because just imagining absolute rest in times like these is already desperate,” he says. “I knew it would be hot all the time, but I didn’t imagine it would be this unbearable in spring. I miss a little chill.”
She even says that she did the unimaginable: working on holidays because she wanted to. “Today I came to do extra work at a bazaar, work outside the house just to be in the air conditioning.”